Great Golf Top 100
The Luxury Travel and Lifestyle Magazine

Okinawa – Tropical Japan

Posted:

Many more of us are enticed by a trip to Japan. It’s no longer a country that only offers eye-wateringly expensive but masterfully wrapped apples. These days it’s a financially viable holiday destination which tempts tourists with some surprising options.

 

Most visitors will want to see Tokyo. One wouldn’t come all the way to Japan and miss it. This huge modern city makes a great stop-over as it will likely be your travel hub. Enjoy the iconic cityscapes, use that celebrated Shibuya Crossing with its thousands of pedestrians; but consider that less-known part of Japan, Okinawa, which you will probably need to find on a map. Look a long way to the left.
Okinawa is famous for its long-lived population. With 34 centenarians per 100,000 people, this is more than three times the rate of mainland Japan, which already has a creditable aging track record. But Okinawa is, in fact, a vibrant and exciting island that presents tourists with culture, shopping, food and sports. It’s Japan’s undiscovered tropical playground. It has a raft of temples and traditional architecture so typical of Japan, but there is more.
The name Okinawa means "rope in the open sea" which refers to this long swathe of islands between Taiwan and the four main islands of Japan. It consists of around 50 inhabited islands and more than 100 uninhabited ones.

11

Trading Port Okinawa has not always been a formal part of Japan. In the 17th century the kingdom was a tributary both of China and of Japan and a convenient portal for Japanese trade with China. When Japan officially closed its doors to all European nations except the Dutch, Nagasaki and Ryukyu (the chain of islands of which Okinawa is one) became the only Japanese trading ports connected with the outside world. It has therefore had a more open nature and has historically had more foreign interaction.
Okinawa has convenient flights from Tokyo and already has a flourishing tourist market catering to the Japanese. But it is becoming better known by foreigners who are able to have a two-location vacation and an exciting peek at the rich tapestry that is Japan. But what can one do and see on this unique archipelago? 

Culinary Delights Food will likely be a draw as it’s said to be one of the factors that keep Okinawans healthy. This cuisine is distinctly different from that of the mainland, having more Chinese and Taiwanese influences. Pork is big here and it seems that every bit is consumed in some fashion or other. Okinawan ingredients include some unique vegetables such as bitter melon and purple yam. Dark and rich cane sugar is ubiquitous and is eaten as a sweet candy. Look out for any laced with ginger as that is outstanding and thoroughly addictive. 

12

There are many izakaya (small Japanese pubs) that have Okinawan menus and introduce the visitor to a truly local experience. Look out for goya champuru (bitter melon stir fry) and tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork steak). Okinawan soba noodles are everywhere and are a filling and economic meal. Rafute is a must-try national dish. That celebrated pork is braised, and in this case it’s pork belly with a silky texture, melting fat and mahogany skin. Rafute was originally one of the dishes of the royal court. A block of meat is cooked for hours in bonito stock seasoned with soy sauce and sake or the local awamori spirit. The end result is refined, mild and mouth-wateringly delicious.
Awamori is a strong rice-based spirit that can contain a staggering 60% alcohol. It is made using imported fragrant Thai jasmine rice, as during the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Japanese short-grain rice could not be imported from the mainland. Unlike the better-known Japanese Sake, Awamori keeps well and can be stored for several years before drinking. Bottles of this memorable beverage can be found in shops and markets everywhere on the island.

Get Shopping Okinawan music is popular in mainland Japan and the three-stringed sanshin is a beautiful local instrument which could be a striking souvenir for any music lover. Kokusai-dori, Naha city's main street, is where it’s possible to find all manner of gifts including traditional and contemporary sanshin. Kokusai-dori ("International Avenue") is a 1.6 kilometre-long street of shops, restaurants and assorted bars. Yes, there is the inevitable McDonalds but the majority of the stores and restaurants are local or Japanese.
The covered Heiwa-dori Shopping Arcade and Makishi Public Market are the older and more colourful faces of Okinawan retail. There are souvenirs aplenty but also household goods, fabrics and toys. There are small family-run outlets that specialise in drink including awamori, snacks, tea and clothing. The food market is vibrant and bustling with people buying ingredients for dinner – glistening fish, still-live crabs, octopus, as well as condiments, local pickles, meat and vegetables. This will be the highlight of a visit for anyone looking for an authentic food experience.
Just outside the market is the area called Tsuboya or "pot jar shop". This neighbourhood was once a major centre of ceramic production on the island and is still a magnet for those hunting for Japanese tableware or ceramics of any description. A whole dinner service might be too weighty to take back home but a set of chopstick rests would be light and affordable. 

15

Exploring the Area Most people will know of Okinawa from wartime documentaries. Historical World War II sites can be found throughout the islands, especially the main island of Okinawa, commemorating the huge loss of life and conflict in the region. There is the Peace Memorial Park in Naha, the navy's former underground headquarters, and the Himeyuri Monument.
Okinawa has great snorkelling and diving from the smaller islands as well as some of the best offshore fishing in the world. The sea is clear, blue and warm and will tempt keen underwater photographers. Marlin and tuna are popular catches and there are many boats with crew for hire, but find one that caters to non-Japanese-speakers. 

Many more of us are enticed by a trip to Japan. It’s no longer a country that only offers eye-wateringly expensive but masterfully wrapped apples. These days it’s a financially viable holiday destination which tempts tourists with some surprising options.
Most visitors will want to see Tokyo. One wouldn’t come all the way to Japan and miss it. This huge modern city makes a great stop-over as it will likely be your travel hub. Enjoy the iconic cityscapes, use that celebrated Shibuya Crossing with its thousands of pedestrians; but consider that less-known part of Japan, Okinawa, which you will probably need to find on a map. Look a long way to the left.
Okinawa is famous for its long-lived population. With 34 centenarians per 100,000 people, this is more than three times the rate of mainland Japan, which already has a creditable aging track record. But Okinawa is, in fact, a vibrant and exciting island that presents tourists with culture, shopping, food and sports. It’s Japan’s undiscovered tropical playground. It has a raft of temples and traditional architecture so typical of Japan, but there is more.

The name Okinawa means "rope in the open sea" which refers to this long swathe of islands between Taiwan and the four main islands of Japan. It consists of around 50 inhabited islands and more than 100 uninhabited ones. Okinawa has not always been a formal part of Japan. In the 17th century the kingdom was a tributary both of China and of Japan and a convenient portal for Japanese trade with China. When Japan officially closed its doors to all European nations except the Dutch, Nagasaki and Ryukyu (the chain of islands of which Okinawa is one) became the only Japanese trading ports connected with the outside world. It has therefore had a more open nature and has historically had more foreign interaction.

14

Okinawa has convenient flights from Tokyo and already has a flourishing tourist market catering to the Japanese. But it is becoming better known by foreigners who are able to have a two-location vacation and an exciting peek at the rich tapestry that is Japan. But what can one do and see on this unique archipelago?

Food will likely be a draw as it’s said to be one of the factors that keep Okinawans healthy. This cuisine is distinctly different from that of the mainland, having more Chinese and Taiwanese influences. Pork is big here and it seems that every bit is consumed in some fashion or other. Okinawan ingredients include some unique vegetables such as bitter melon and purple yam. Dark and rich cane sugar is ubiquitous and is eaten as a sweet candy. Look out for any laced with ginger as that is outstanding and thoroughly addictive.
There are many izakaya (small Japanese pubs) that have Okinawan menus and introduce the visitor to a truly local experience. Look out for goya champuru (bitter melon stir fry) and tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork steak). Okinawan soba noodles are everywhere and are a filling and economic meal. Rafute is a must-try national dish. That celebrated pork is braised, and in this case it’s pork belly with a silky texture, melting fat and mahogany skin. Rafute was originally one of the dishes of the royal court. A block of meat is cooked for hours in bonito stock seasoned with soy sauce and sake or the local awamori spirit. The end result is refined, mild and mouth-wateringly delicious.

13

Awamori is a strong rice-based spirit that can contain a staggering 60% alcohol. It is made using imported fragrant Thai jasmine rice, as during the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Japanese short-grain rice could not be imported from the mainland. Unlike the better-known Japanese Sake, Awamori keeps well and can be stored for several years before drinking. Bottles of this memorable beverage can be found in shops and markets everywhere on the island.
Okinawan music is popular in mainland Japan and the three-stringed sanshin is a beautiful local instrument which could be a striking souvenir for any music lover. Kokusai-dori, Naha city's main street, is where it’s possible to find all manner of gifts including traditional and contemporary sanshin. Kokusai-dori ("International Avenue") is a 1.6 kilometre-long street of shops, restaurants and assorted bars. Yes, there is the inevitable McDonalds but the majority of the stores and restaurants are local or Japanese.

The covered Heiwa-dori Shopping Arcade and Makishi Public Market are the older and more colourful faces of Okinawan retail. There are souvenirs aplenty but also household goods, fabrics and toys. There are small family-run outlets that specialise in drink including awamori, snacks, tea and clothing. The food market is vibrant and bustling with people buying ingredients for dinner – glistening fish, still-live crabs, octopus, as well as condiments, local pickles, meat and vegetables. This will be the highlight of a visit for anyone looking for an authentic food experience.
Just outside the market is the area called Tsuboya or "pot jar shop". This neighbourhood was once a major centre of ceramic production on the island and is still a magnet for those hunting for Japanese tableware or ceramics of any description. A whole dinner service might be too weighty to take back home but a set of chopstick rests would be light and affordable.

 Most people will know of Okinawa from wartime documentaries. Historical World War II sites can be found throughout the islands, especially the main island of Okinawa, commemorating the huge loss of life and conflict in the region. There is the Peace Memorial Park in Naha, the navy's former underground headquarters, and the Himeyuri Monument.
Okinawa has great snorkelling and diving from the smaller islands as well as some of the best offshore fishing in the world. The sea is clear, blue and warm and will tempt keen underwater photographers. Marlin and tuna are popular catches and there are many boats with crew for hire, but find one that caters to non-Japanese-speakers.

10

 

Good to know

Getting around

Public buses run all over Okinawa. Times and routes are posted in both English and Japanese at each bus stop and bus terminals. The best way to see the island is by private tour bus. Tours begin at around 8am and can be arranged by going to the Naha Bus Station at the Asahabashi monorail stop.

When is the best time to visit Okinawa?

Even in January and February, the average high temperature is around 20°C (68°F), ideal for a winter trip. Late March and April is a good time to come for a spring holiday although it’s best to avoid the end of April which is a peak holiday time for Japanese. Summer months in Okinawa, just like most of Japan, can be hot and humid, and September might find the visitor confronted by typhoons. October and November are again good times to visit.

Where else to go?

Murasaki Mura: An entertainment park where you can experience dozens of different types of Okinawan culture. Well worth a visit for an overview of this unique island.

Churaumi Aquarium is found in Ocean Expo Park on the Motobu Peninsula. Attractions include one of the world’s largest observation tanks with huge whale sharks and manta rays, as well as coral with its smaller inhabitants.

Kamimura Shuzo is an old distillery and was established in 1882. Tours of the brewery are available, both daytime and evening. A good place to buy a few extra bottles of awamori.

Okinawa Tourist Board